Category Archives: Exhibitions

Bring jewels to life: a competition about Ilona Ptasnik’s jewellery collection in Schoonhoven

Ilona Ptasnik

Last year the Dutch Silver Museum in Schoonhoven received a generous gift from the estate of Ilona Ptasnik. A large collection of antique jewellery was given by this lady who had been unknown to the Museum before her gift. Ms. Ptasnik  was born in Amsterdam in 1918 from a Jewish Polish family. In 1938 her family emigrated to the USA where Ilona married Adriaan van der Bilt with whom she returned to The Netherlands after the Second World War. From her jewellery collection appears a preference of gemstones, but apart from this, a large variety of styles, techniques and fashions.

The Museum got curious; Who was this woman, how did she look and what does her collection tell us about her life? The Museum asks us to help them bring her jewellery to life. We can contribute with stories, drawings, collages, poems – anything – with your idea about who Ilona Ptasnik was. You can send your work to: All contributions will form a part of the exhibition that shows Ms. Ptasnik’s jewellery collection from 25 September until 25 November in Schoonhoven. You will see what promises to be a very impressive collection and if your ideas correspond with reality. I can’t wait to see and who actually knew Ilona??


the Utrecht Museum of Musical Clocks presents Emperor Qianlong’s Singsongs: paste extravaganza

In Utrecht we have a unique museum: the Museum Speelklok (Museum of Musical Clocks). They house any kind of automatic  musical instrument, such as this monster of a carousel. Until 28 February a very special exhibition SingSong displays a selection of clocks representing the most important objects from the Qing dynasty. Leading European clockmakers, such as the master of the craft James Cox, produced many of these magical and mysteriously frivolous showpieces. They have never left China before.

Although they do contain proper clock movements, their main aim was not to tell the time but to amuse and impress, making them exclusive and expensive toys for prominent adults. The exotic designs went way beyond any imagination expressed in the European rococo and chinoiserie of the time. During the 18th century, the most spectacular and costly clocks were traded from the West to China. The clocks were much sought after by the Chinese emperors and were also highly desirable gifts.


Some enchanting clocks played music every quarter of an hour, and the Chinese called this novelty ‘the clock that plays by itself’, or in Chinese: ‘zimingzhong’. This word was anglicised into ‘singsong’, the equivalent of the musical clock. Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796) accumulated a vast collection of these fascinating and imaginative clocks, which now form part of the collection of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City (Beijing).  For three years Museum Speelklok and the Palace Museum have restored the imperial clocks together. The exhibition also gives a great insight in this complicated collaboration.

The Pagoda clock

This clock is one of a pair of identical, fire-gilded bronze pagoda clocks. The pagodas have five levels, with roofs decorated with bells, garlands and pastes: glass which has been cut into gem-like forms imitation gemstones. The paste decorations are completely over the top.  Each hour on the hour, music plays and the pagoda clocks open up telescopically (to a height of almost two metres!), only to fall back again to their original size during the hour that follows.

The Elephant & the Pavillion clock

Watch these clock play below.


Georges Frederic Strass (1701-1773) invented the much desired gem imitation in 1730 and due to the huge success of the invented technique was awarded with the title King’s Jeweler in 1743. The glass “gems” could be set in silver or gold and could have been foiled or unfoiled. The 18th century pastes demonstrated on the SingSongs were always foiled. Foiled pastes were usually seen in closed-backed settings where the foil provided added reflection and brilliance. Pastes were much easier cut and shaped than real gems, making this close-fitting pavé look achievable. You see every color imaginal, including opaline pastes that are similar to opals as in this brooch. Only two gems real are used; amethysts and  chrysolite.

Paste in the Singsongs

Paste jewels are still immensely popular, but I have never seen examples like this before! Pay attention to the bouquet on top of the Elephant clock  in the movie above. Just imagine these bouquets on your shoulder, or just a tiny one…

Read my pins, says Madeleine Albright

The Museum of Arts and Design in New York has made a very special exhibition on the US’ former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s diverse and notable collection of brooches. Through October 2010 you can see over 200 pins, many of which Secretary Albright wore to communicate a message during her diplomatic career, in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

Jewelry has always played a part in world affairs, expressing power, impressing people or forging alliances, but it was never used so eloquently as by Albright.

It all started when Madeleine Albright criticized Saddam Hussein in her role of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Saddam’s personal poet responded by calling her “an unparalleled serpent.” When deciding what to wear to their meeting, Albright chose to make a diplomatic statement by choosing a snake pin. Although her method of communication was new, her message was not. From that day forward, pins became part of Albright’s diplomatic signature.

Albright: Before long, and without intending it, I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal. Former president George H. W. Bush had been known for saying “Read my lips.” I began urging colleagues and reporters to “Read my pins.”

She has written her own catalogue to the exhibition, Read my pins, stories from a diplomat’s jewel. Her stories s behind her extensive pin collection, which includes flags, fruit, bugs, birds and almost everything else, are very amusing and humorous. Included are the antique eagle purchased to celebrate Albright’s appointment as secretary of state, the zebra pin she wore when meeting Nelson Mandela, and the Valentine’s Day heart forged by Albright’s five-year-old daughter.

This brooch, called Liberty, is made by Gijs Bakker for an earlier exhibition Brooching It Diplomatically; A Tribute to Madeleine Albright. The clocks are arranged so that Albright, looking down, as well as her visitor, looking up,  can both see when the time for their meeting is up.

Madeleine Albright talks about her pins

Yves Saint-Laurent, a retrospective at the Petit Palais in Paris

le coeur d'Yves Saint-Laurent

You have all summer to see YSL’s life work until 29 August 2010. The Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and the Petit Palais (City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts) are showing an Yves Saint-Laurent retrospective exhibition.  On display are 307 haute couture and prêt-à-porter models, ranging from when Yves’s began in 1958 – at 21 he was already head of Christian Dior – to the splendour of the evening dresses from 2002.

Yves designed his heart brooch in 1958 for his first collection, but he continued to pin this brooch on his favorite dress in every new show.

Historical backgrounds of the designs and the development of the Yves Saint-Laurent style are explored. In 40 years Yves Saint-Laurent revolutionised women’s clothing, by using powerful attributes from one gender to the other; the male evening suit, trouser suit and safari suit.

Here is an introduction to the exhibition:

The Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent is financed by the proceeds of the ‘sale of the century‘ that took place February 2009 at Christie’s when Pierre Bergé decided to part with Yves’ and his’ vast and eclectic art collection after Yves’ death in 2008. From a jewellery perspective it included many beautiful and important cameo’s and this extraordinary boîte à portrait of Louis XIV by Petitot (1607-1691) and Le Tessier de Montmarsy, circa 1680.

Art & Love at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Victoria & Albert: Art & Love

This major exhibition runs from 19 March to 31 October 2010. The exhibition focusses on the unique partnership of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their shared enthusiasm for art from the time of their engagement in 1839 to the Prince’s early death in 1861.

For Victoria and Albert, art was an important part of everyday life and a way they expressed their love for each other.  Around a third of the objects in the exhibition were exchanged as gifts between the couple to mark special occasions. They range from the simple, romantic and sentimental jewelry to superb jewels and other great art, such as an early Italian painting, including Bernardo Daddi’s The Marriage of the Virgin, given by the Queen to the Prince for his birthday in 1846.

The orange blossom jewelry

This is the fitted box and the original blossom brooch. This gold and porcelain blossom was one of the first gifts Prince Albert gave his fiancee. The box is inscribed “Sent to me by dear Albert from Wiesbaden Novr. 1839”. It has the form of a sprig of orange blossom which flower is traditionally associated with engagement. At the wedding the Queen wore sprays of real orange blossom in her hair and on her bodice. The Prince continued to give Victoria orange blossom jewelry, eventually creating a beautiful parure, parts of which she always wore on their wedding anniversary.

The fitted box for the original orange blossom brooch is inscribed  'Sent to me by dear Albert from Wiesbaden Novr. 1839'

The ‘Tibur Ruby’ necklace was made for Queen Victoria by R. & S. Garrard & Co. in 1853

The Koh-i-nûr diamond, the most famous gem from the Lahore Treasury, came directly to Queen Victoria from India in 1850, other significant jewels remained with the East India Company for the Great Exhibition. In recognition of the Queen’s patronage of the Exhibition, the Directors of the Company presented her with a magnificent selection of stones, of which the ‘wonderful’ rubies ‘cabochons, unset, but pierced’ particularly struck her: ‘one is the largest in the world, therefore even more remarkable than the Koh-i-noor’. This, the so-called Timur Ruby, which weighs 352.5 carats, together with three smaller stones – all of which are actually spinels rather than rubies – were set by Garrards into a new necklace of Oriental inspiration in April 1853. In June of the same year the necklace was adapted so that the re-cut Koh-i-nûr could occasionally take the place of the Timur Ruby; and in 1858 three of the five pendant diamonds originally attached to the centre of the necklace were made detachable for alternative use, two as earrings and the central pendant (the Lahore Diamond) as the centre of the Coronation Necklace.

The history of the stone, with its illustrious provenance from the Mughal Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb and Farrukhsiyar, and the Persian rulers Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah, is partly recorded in inscriptions dating between 1612 and 1771 on the stone itself. The connection with the great Asian conqueror Timur (1336-1408), which arose from a misreading in the early twentieth century of one of the inscriptions, has recently been reconsidered, and it is now thought possible that Nadir Shah, who looted the stone from the imperial treasury in Delhi in February 1739, may have placed his inscription over an erased inscription proclaiming Timur’s ownership.

GOLD, also known as shining dawn…

From 13 June to 6 January 2011, the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht will show a spectacular and unique exhibition on gold. Also spectacular and unique is the guest curator for this exhibition: the famous Dutch fashion designer and performance artist Aziz Bekkaoui.

The aim of this exhibition is not to dazzle people with the glitter and glam of this coveted precious metal, the purpose is to intrigue and amaze the public. The museum has asked Bekkaoui to answer questions as; What is the meaning of gold? What qualities are attributed to it? And what is the real value of gold? What powers are derived from it? What is gold in the proportion of religion and the philosophy of life? Aziz shows surprising answers along the different aspects of gold: protection, decoration, power, immortality, value and worship.

Crowns, sceptres, icons, masks and jewellery are some of the objects that have been made from gold at all times, and for all reasons.  In the exhibition Gold, Aziz enhances the museum’s own collection of religious objects with remarkable, surprising, old and contemporary works on loan. Together they not only tell the story of the applications and functions of gold, but also show that gold is used in much the same ways today as it was centuries ago.

The beautiful liturgical objects from the depot of the Catharijneconvent comprise many stunning, gold-embellished paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, chalices and clothes. They illustrate the tradition that gold is the only material worthy of praising the Lord: only gold can contain the divine. Such as a silver gilded chalice in the Catholic doctrine. It does not simply contain red wine, but also the blood of Christ during Holy Communion.

The secular use of gold is nicely illustrated with a marvelous object loaned by the Dutch Royal House: the British Field-Marshall’s staff belonging to King Willem II. In 1845, the Dutch king was appointed Field Marshall of Great Britain in 1845 by the Duke of Wellington, under whose command he had fought in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The staff is executed in gold and velvet and radiates a sense of power – similar to a bishop’s crozier from the museum’s own collection.

The exhibition is set up in an interesting associative and artistic way. A gilded wooden crown of an Ashanti king is placed alongside a facsimile of a gilded Roman helmet. And as a modern equivalent, Aziz exhibits a face cream by La Prairie containing… gold! He comments: ‘Gold on crowns and helmets offers protection from external forces, in face creams it protects from the aging process’. And so it is.

On loan from the State Museum of History in Moscow a gilded evangelistary is shown in which the holy word is highlighted in gold. This tradition is also found in Islamic culture as shown in a juz (a section of the Koran) from the Museum of Ethnography in Leiden. The book dates from the sixteenth or seventeenth century and its cover is completely coated in gold. Opposite it, Aziz has placed today’s holy book: a gilded laptop. Interesting contradiction, similar radiation.

Gold will always be a valuable commodity. We have hundreds of every day examples: the golden Olympic medal, golden symbols on statues, golden fashion-logo’s and common gold jewelry. And even the golden Credit Card in your wallet…

Besides the exhibition, the museum organizes treasure hunting for children (the never ending search for gold) and a course in gilding. A special Gold magazine is published for the occasion and: all the Golden Calves awarded by the Dutch Film Festival are on display.

At the same time, the neighborly Geldmuseum will discuss the recently very relevant theme of the value of money where visitors are able to see a visualization of the complete but scarce gold stock of the world. More questions are asked: what is the worth of gold and what is it worth to you?

We are already looking forward to the exhibition! In the mean time we will have to provide ourselves with Kimpun Sake, Goldstrike or even a sip of Bruidstranen. Wonder what that will taste like…

Enchanted Rings

Another travelling exhibition is that of the Enchanted Rings (De BetoveRING). These rings can be seen from June 27th 2010 to August 29th at the Museum of Enamel and Glass Art in Ravenstein, The Netherlands.

The Dutch Society of Gold- and Silver smiths (VGZ) and the Dutch Board for Craft Trades (HBA) have organized the 4th annual design contest for gold- and silversmiths, with Enchanted Rings (De BetoveRING) as its theme. 18 out of 78 designs were nominated. As the theme prescribes they all have to do with fairytales.

We see frogs, castles, dancing shoes, caleidoscopes, ponds, waterlillies, secret compartments, see troughs and wonderful craftmanship. Winner of the contest was Eva Theuerzeit of Brans Almelo BV. Theuerzeit’s ring features a highly detailed fantasy landscape surrounding an aquamarine pond.

Third runner up was Joeri Dijkman from Metal Art in Alkmaar. Joeri’s music ring is my personal favorite; a ring with a very industrial look to it that is part of a melody box. The ring is also the heart of the design because the positioning of the diamonds (up side down!) and the cabochon ruby defines the melody of the music box. Other materials used were black zirconium, steel, titanium and wood. The music box cost EUR 7000,- and up. The tune it plays was composed by harpist Klaartje Broers. Click below to see and hear Joeri demonstrate his ring!